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Challenging the notion that “money can’t buy happiness”

“Money can’t buy happiness.” It’s a phrase most of us are familiar with. Many people find comfort in the idea that happiness and pleasure can come from non-materialistic sources, when money is all too often a limited resource. This is typical of a civilization that is constantly bombarded by societal pressures to work ourselves into the ground to earn money to upgrade to the next new material item pumped out by the industrial world. It’s easier to find solace in denying that a source of happiness doesn’t have to come from what seems to always evade us.

However, if we shake off the ideas that have been drilled into our heads — things that we were taught, like, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “money can’t buy happiness” — we can examine the truth that may or may not exist behind these phrases.

The simple argument is that money cannot buy some of the things we value in life, like friendship, love or a sense of appreciation for the world. This is true; there is no counter argument there. Relationships formed on the basis of money are not ones that will bring happiness. Let’s take it a step further and consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In order for one to achieve self-actualization at the top of the pyramid, and by extension, happiness in the world, the bottom categories need to be fulfilled. From bottom to top, the pyramid reads “physiological,” “safety,” “love/belonging,” “esteem,” and ends with “self-actualization.”

At the base of the pyramid is the “physiological” needs like food, clothing, shelter, sleep, water and air. While some of these come free to us, the majority of that basic list is provided on the basis of money. Money to buy clothes, money to buy the mattress you sleep on and money to buy the food you eat. Of course, it can be argued that these are things can be made or grown by hand, but realistically, not all of us can live that lifestyle, and so we need the money to buy our basic needs.

The “safety” category can also have heavy ties into money. There are the obvious links to personal safety, but safety can also mean a feeling of stability and security. This can come in the form of personal security, overall health and well-being, and financial security. Without financial security, there is no peace of mind to focus on other aspects of your life.

Just as the base categories of Maslow’s Pyramid rely on the resource of money, so does happiness. Happiness is attainable in some forms without it, such as one’s personal determination to show cheerfulness, gratitude and an overall positive outlook on life, but these things are all achieved much easier if there is something to build on. The only way to climb the pyramid and meet the needs of “love,” “esteem” and “self actualization,” you need a way to provide yourself with the basics.

Money may not be entirely essential to all of happiness, but it helps create the basis of which we build our happiness on: comfort and stability.

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